No. 13 St. Louis slips past La Salle, 65-63

Posted: February 10, 2014

La Salle coach John Giannini left the court Saturday at Tom Gola Arena with a pained expression after another case of deja vu he would rather not have experienced.

The Explorers had a shot at upsetting 13th-ranked St. Louis. But senior Jordair Jett took matters into his own hands, driving into the lane and sinking a layup with four seconds to play to give the Billikens a 65-63 victory in an Atlantic Ten Conference game, the visitors' 16th consecutive win.

It marked the third heartbreaker at home this season for the Explorers (12-11, 4-5 A-10). They lost to Manhattan in double overtime in their season opener in November. They also lost a double-overtime decision two weeks ago to Virginia Commonwealth. In both cases, they had chances to win before the final buzzer.

On Saturday, La Salle never had a legitimate possession to win the game, having to settle for Tyrone Garland's desperation heave from half-court at the buzzer. The team would have settled for overtime, but Jett - who scored 19 of St. Louis' last 24 points and 25 in all - had other ideas.

"I've done this so long [25 years], and I'm still shocked at how infinitesimally small the difference between winning and losing is," Giannini said. "Manhattan, one play. VCU, one play. St. Louis, one play. . . .

"Trust me, we haven't done what we wanted to this year. But if you objectively look at the margin, it's three plays. Last year we were 7-1 in games like this. Now we're 0-3. The difference is shockingly small."

The Billikens (22-2, 9-0) led for much of the game and were up, 61-54, with five minutes to play. But they went scoreless for the next four minutes, and the Explorers went on a 7-0 run to tie it on Tyreek Duren's three-pointer with 1 minute, 15 seconds remaining.

Jett, a 6-foot-1, 215-pound guard who looks as if he should be playing strong safety on a football field somewhere, drove into the lane and scored for the lead, and Duren answered with a scoop shot in the lane.

With La Salle's defense packed in the lane to stop another drive by Jett, the Billikens player drove anyway and scored over two defenders. With no timeouts left, Garland tried to weave his way through traffic before firing a shot that banged off the backboard.

"His strength and his mental toughness and his physicality are at the highest level you can find on a basketball court," Giannini said of Jett. "He's strong physically, he's strong mentally, and he's going to go to the basket, and he does it against everybody."

The Explorers' big men were outstanding. Jerrell Wright matched a career high with 21 points, and Steve Zack contributed 15 points and 13 rebounds for his 13th double-double of the season.

But it was small consolation for the Explorers, who have the week off before taking on St. Joseph's next Saturday.

"I have no problem with our effort, and I have no problem with any individual," Giannini said. "I just have a problem, whether it's St. Louis or VCU or Manhattan, that they willed a way to find one more play in them than we did."


jjuliano@phillynews.com

@joejulesinq

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